“Sharon Karlsson,” I said, my mouth stiff around the words. The name felt so wrong to me.
She nodded, her arm shaking badly as she held the envelope towards me. I moved forward to take it.
Blake moved to block me. “She hasn’t let us search her, Ms. Karlsson.”
I studied Sharon. She wore a thin shift of a dress, flowers faded from many washes. I didn’t see how she could hide anything in the dress, but I wasn’t the expert. “Will you hand me the envelope then?” I asked Blake, trying to be practical.
Blake took the envelope from Sharon, and the red-headed woman began backing immediately out the door. I remembered that I had something to tell her but she was retreating swiftly. I had to shoulder past my bodyguards to catch a last view of her getting into an old clunker of a sedan that was parked on the curb.
“Wait, Sharon,” I called out. She cast me a panicky look, but didn’t pause. I moved closer. “I need to tell you something important,” I shouted, but she was already peeling away from my house like a madwoman.
“Please, Ms. Karlsson. Step back inside. It could be some kind of a trap,” Paterson said, scanning the street with focused thoroughness.
I cooperated, walking back inside with a sigh. Now I would have to call her. I had so just wanted to get it over with. I had an almost overpoweringly strong aversion to speaking to that woman. I held my hand out to Blake as I passed her. “May I have that letter?”
She looked hesitant but handed it to me.
Paterson cleared his throat. “May I inspect it first, Ms. Karlsson?”
I already had the thing open, and I could see that it contained nothing more than a thin scrap of paper. I showed him.
He grimaced, holding out his hand. “I’m asking to read it first.”
I shook my head. I would cooperate with them for the sake of my safety, but I had no intention of sharing my personal business with them. “No. I’m sorry, but this is private.” I went into my bedroom without another word.
I could hear Paterson’s voice through the door. “I’m going to have to tell Mr. Cavendish about this, Ms.
“You do that,” I said, opening the letter. It was short and to the point.
Bianca, I understand why you don’t want anything to do with me, but I have a son. He is your half-brother, your father’s son. He’s only one year younger than you. His name is Sven Karlsson, and he lives in Manhattan. His phone number is at the bottom of the page. I think he would like to hear from you.
We have no other family, and he has been estranged from me and his father for several years.
Sincerely, Sharon Karlsson My vision went a little fuzzy after the first few sentences. I have a brother? Only a year younger than myself? The ramifications took long minutes to sink in as I sat perched on the edge of my bed.
I had been fourteen when my father had murdered my mother. He had been seeing this other woman the entire time, had a child with her. Is that why he had killed my mother? Had the shooting been even more calculated than I’d realized?
I thought of my mother, my beautiful mother. That Sharon woman never could have held a candle to her, with her garish looks and lack of class, and she was obviously much older than my mother would be, if she were alive. My mother had been the very epitome of class, holding a quietly reserved grace in every line of her elegant body.
It seemed impossible that anyone would have killed such a woman, let alone for someone like Sharon. I found myself hating that woman with a passion usually only reserved for my father. But my half-brother… I had not a clue what to think about the idea of that.
My phone distracted me out of my reverie, though it had been ringing for awhile, I realized. I saw that it was James and answered it.
“What’s going on, Bianca? Paterson tells me you wouldn’t let him check a mysterious letter.” His voice was more worried than angry but I still felt myself bristling.
“It’s my letter, James. And what harm could there be in a letter?”
“Who was that woman?”
I sighed. Of course he’d gotten a detailed report of everything. “My father’s wife, Sharon Karlsson.”
He cursed. “What did she want?”
I studied the short letter. “Nothing much. She was in full panic mode, so she didn’t say much. I didn’t get a chance to tell her anything, either, so now I have to call her. The sooner the better, so I need to let you go.”
“Wait. What did the letter say?”
I pursed my lips, debating what to tell him. Why not everything? His investigators probably knew more than I did, at this point. “She just wanted to tell me that I have a half-brother. She and my father have a son.”
He was silent for a long moment. “Okay. Thank you for telling me. I’ll let you go so you can make that phone call. Will you call me before bed?” I agreed to call him, and we hung up.
I went back to my missed calls, calling back the number that I knew was hers. It rang five times and went to voicemail. I was a breath away from just leaving her a message when I realized how that might endanger her. I couldn’t say anything about my father or she might have to answer to him for it. I finally decided that any message from me would be bad, if my father had access, which he very well could have.
I tried calling her again, with the same result. I realized with resignation that I would have to keep calling her until I got the woman herself.
I had taken such a long nap that I found myself having dinner at Stephan’s house just thirty minutes later, dressed in an overlarge T-shirt and cheer shorts. Stephan gave me an arch look when he saw my attire.
“Bet you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing that when James was around.”
I gave him a half smile as I moved into his house. “James isn’t around, now, is he?”
Stephan, Javier, and I had a very pleasant dinner, laughing and talking while we all ate too much of Stephan’s chicken cacciatore. It was as fabulous as it always was, one of his best recipes by far.
After dinner Javier slipped away without an awkward moment to give us some privacy to chat. “I need to make some phone calls,” he murmured and slipped away. Stephan gave him a very affectionate smile.
We caught up on everything, nearly talking over each other to get it all out. He was shocked about my mysterious half-brother. I was shocked when he glanced at the doorway where Javier had exited then leaned forward to say in a whisper, “I’m totally in love with him, Bianca. I’m in deep. I can’t seem to help it, with Javier. Falling for him is just too easy, when I don’t hold myself back.”
His eyes were so earnest and vulnerable that I wanted to cry. I hoped with all my heart that it worked out for them. He sighed and smiled, happy to enjoy the moment, instead of analyzing it all to death like I seemed to. “What about you? Do you think you love James?”
I looked down at my hands. They were suddenly fisted in my lap. I nodded. “Hopelessly. I don’t know about the rest of it, but I know I love him. Hell, I don’t even know if he loves me back. I’m not even sure he’s capable of it, or if I’m capable of letting him, you know?”
His soft eyes just about undid me. “Oh, he loves you alright. I think he’s loved you from the start. That man would do anything for you. I know it in my heart.”
I thought about what a beautiful thing Stephan’s heart was, to always see the good around the mess that it was buried in.
I wanted to ask him something, but even thinking about it made me blush. But Stephan and I had established a pattern of openness so long ago, that it was as ingrained in me as my love for him, so it wasn’t long before I got up the nerve. “You and Javier seem to have a sort of, um, dominant submissive vibe going on. Is that how it is between you?”
I studied his face, but saw no hesitance or embarrassment there. He just smiled happily. “We aren’t into the BDSM stuff, if that’s what you mean, but I’m his top. We don’t switch, not ever. It doesn’t appeal to either of us.”
He had explained the top/bottom thing to me a long time ago. He only ever topped. I had known that. I just hadn’t connected his preference to a dominant/submissive relationship so clearly, though it obviously was just that.
Stephan cleared his throat. “You and James are into the BDSM stuff, aren’t you? He’s your dominant.”
I nodded, meeting his eyes squarely, though I couldn’t bring myself to smile, like he had. “I know it’s not…normal, but I’ve found that it’s just the way I’m hardwired. And he mostly only acts that way in the bedroom. He really doesn’t boss me around outside of it, though he does manipulate the hell out of my life.”
He stroked my hair. “You don’t have to explain your preferences to me. I want whatever makes you happy, and I see that James does that, when you let him. You weren’t even slightly interested in men before you met him, so he obviously gives you something you need. I’m glad you found someone who seems to compliment you so well.”
I nodded, sighing in relief. I had been half-afraid that he would be mad at James if I told him about our strange sexual preferences, and it was good to know that he wouldn’t judge us. I knew better, and as always, Stephan deserved only my blind my faith.
We finished out the night watching a few episodes of New Girl, the three of us laughing and eating ice cream. Stephan walked me home around ten o’clock. My security was waiting for me, of course.
I called James, and we spoke for nearly an hour before we reluctantly said goodnight. It hadn’t even been a day since we’d parted, with just one more to go, but as I tried to fall asleep that night, it felt like forever.
Work the next day was beyond busy, but still managed to feel like it took ages. We were actually running early on our hour layover in DC. I called James but he didn’t answer. He had told me he had some important meetings that day, so I wasn’t surprised. Just disappointed.
Stephan was speaking excitedly to Javier on his phone in the galley just before we boarded. He beamed at me as he hung up the phone. “The JFK flight is delayed two hours. If we keep running on time we can actually take the redeye flight tonight. Javier is going to meet us at the airport with my overnight bag.
James has things for you at his place, right?”
I nodded, feeling suddenly light and happy. If everything worked out just perfectly, I would get to see James a good eight hours earlier than I could have hoped for. My day was looking up.
When we finally arrived back in Vegas we deplaned with efficient and single-minded purpose, still hoping to catch the flight to New York. “Javier says it’s D39, the gate next door. He’s waiting there now. He’s all checked in, and we’re listed. We just need to get there in the next twenty minutes.”
And we did, rushing off the plane at the first possible moment, barely saying goodbye to the rest of the crew. Stephan left his paperwork with Jake, who would drop it off for him.
Javier grinned when he saw us running up to the podium.
We got on the plane, if only barely. It departed not ten minutes after we got on board. I only had time to leave James a brief text telling him that we were on our way, and what time we would arrive.